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Clyde Climate Forest, Glasgow City: 18 million trees, but this is just a headline

«it’s what’s beneath the headline that matters». From choosing the right species for the right places to involving the community in giving trees their fair financial value

Glasgow setting an example for the world 

In 2021, the city of Glasgow drew the attention around the public debate on climate change. The challenges the world is trying to overcome in order to preserve life. The main focus was on Scotland because the country hosted Cop26. The XXVI conference of all members of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). With most of the attention on the conference, it is time to bring back the city. We spoke to Max Hislop, director of Clyde Climate Forest. He told us about the steps forward the city is making in order to achieve neutrality. 

Clyde Climate Forest: simple solutions for a challenging future

At first glance, the idea behind Clyde Climate Forest seems intuitive. What the planet is demanding from us is to give some space back to nature. So that it can flourish and restore a global balance between human activities and wilderness. The core idea behind Clyde Climate Forest is to plant eighteen million trees over the next decade. Both in the urban and rural parts of Glasgow City Region. Trees, woodlands and forests are a key factor in the fight against global warming. «The Clyde Climate Forest builds on the current enthusiasm for tree planting. It will channel that interest into tree planting projects that deliver a broad range of climate and ecological benefits», says Hislop. 

The eight local authority areas that make up the wider Glasgow City Region are all taking part in the project; «While dominated by the large densely populated urban area of Glasgow, there are also areas of geographical remoteness and rural nature within the region» explains Hislop. «The big headline is that we are trying to plant something approaching eighteen million trees, but it’s what’s beneath the headline that matters». The number is impressive, but it’s the substance and the design of the project that aims to make a difference on multiple levels: «We constructed the whole idea behind Clyde Climate Forests around three Cs: Canopy, Connectivity and Carbon»

The launching of Clyde Climate Forest project

The project started in June 2021 by the eight councils, and the three Cs represent the width of its scope and make up Clyde Climate Forest as an «umbrella organization». Valued at £107m, Clyde Climate Forest makes up a key part of the £30bn Greenprint portfolio designed to boost Glasgow’s 2030 net zero target by unlocking and scaling green investment. Three persons are part of Clyde Climate Forest team; but they involve also many partner organizations. From the design phase, they are now gradually moving on to put projects into practice: «one thing is setting the targets and another is delivering on them» suggests Hislop.

The relationship between the city and the forest

Hislop explains that historically, humans saw forests as a threatening place. Forests represented the unknown, and the home to wild animals who could inflict physical harm– characteristics that made it become the symbol of mystery, fear and the subconscious. The construction of the walls around cities was to provide protection to the citizens from the wild they didn’t know. Now there is a role reversal. Trees and woodlands within cities, often behind fences, are not to protect the citizens, but to protect the trees. Cities – where humans proposer– became the threat. Nature is the endangered element that must be protected. «What we should be looking to do is building a much closer relationship between our cities and our forests, and there is mutual advantage in doing that». 

On one hand, urban forests contribute to the quality of the local environment. On the other, human knowledge control and protect species in the best way possible; thanks to which allows them to grow healthy and undisturbed. Transforming this relationship would also mean changing the social role of trees. «We have to understand the huge benefits that urban trees deliver».

The physical and mental health benefits

The benefits to society are well recognized and widely accepted, based on much scientific research – and include both physical and mental health benefits for city dwellers. Their value is not matched by the value invested in them by many cities. It is also becoming more and more clear that «trees have a role to play» in the fight to keep our planet habitable. 

Hislop claims that «we should be regarding urban trees and forests as part of the infrastructure of the city, not just as something that is nice to have or look at – they should be valued just like public transportation, something without which cities cannot function». Which also means money: «You must invest in trees if you want to see good results – they must not be taken for granted if they are to keep delivering the services that they deliver».

In order to put this into practice, a well-structured plan is required: «You wouldn’t start setting up a public transport system without having made a plan first, and similarly we need to recognize that seeing trees as infrastructure requires a plan».

Currently, in many municipalities, trees are considered just as nominal assets: acknowledged because they exist, perhaps with a value of just one pound, euro or dollar, meaning they «have no value in the mind of accountants». In consequence, according to Hislop, the main step to be taken in order to transform the relationship between city and forest in a meaningful way would be to «recognize the trees as a valuable asset». Once you do that, you can then justify investments and move forward. 

Lampoon, Glasgow, render by Marshalls
Glasgow reimagined as a forest city, render from the landscaping manufacturer Marshalls, Scottishconstructionnow

The first C is for Canopy

Canopy «is about urban trees». It’s about measuring the extent in which a city or an area is covered by them. In the UK, the government recommends twenty percent as a good starting point for a city, suggesting you’d ideally want more than that.

«Over the next ten years, we are looking to increasing Glasgow’s urban tree canopy cover. From its current sixteen point five percent up to an average of twenty percent». In order to do this, the project will focus especially on those neighborhoods that have low tree canopy cover; and have vulnerability because of deprivation and the impacts of a changing climate (heatwaves and rainstorm events). It is often easier to plant more trees in the more affluent and leafy suburbs. 

It is more difficult, but far more beneficial, planting them where there is a real need. An assessment was made with aerial photography. This made it possible to precisely define current canopy cover while also choosing the right areas for the new trees to be planted. The probability of each neighborhood to be affected by climatic phenomena like heatwaves and flooding was also taken into account. Planting already started in one of the selected neighborhoods during Cop26. The canopy analysis was a desk-based exercise to identify neighborhoods. However, the idea is to work with the local communities; in a joint effort to develop tree planting proposals and then deliver them.

The second C is for Connectivity

«It’s all about linking up woodland habitats». There are actually a lot of good woodland habitats in the area, says Hislop, but the main issue is that they are not connected: «Over many decades they have become smaller and fragmented, primarily through development and land use change».

The aim is to work with local landowners in order to connect isolated woodland areas and create what Hislop describes as «migrant corridors for woodland wildlife». From the south of our region up to the north. «As the climate changes, species will have to move in a northerly direction». It is thus our responsibility to create the space and means for them to be able to move. Connecting habitats also helps create more resilience in woodland habitats. It helps to ensure the continuing delivery of valuable ecosystem services to society. Conversations have already started with local landowners about the opportunities for creating these vital woodland connections. 

The final C is for Carbon

«I suppose Carbon is what most people think about when you connect trees with the climate emergency», says Hislop. He observes that «there is a huge interest in investing in tree-planting to offset carbon emissions at the moment».

There is also «a lot of discussion and controversy on whether that is the right thing to do». But from a financial perspective, that acts as a driver for more funding for projects involving tree-planting. It is estimated that planting 18 million trees (approximately 9,000 hectares) in Glasgow City Region; over the next 10 years could sequester up to 1.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2045. Which is the year by which Scotland aims to reach ‘Net-Zero’.

It looks like a very high number, but «when you compare it to the emissions that are going out in the atmosphere it is a relatively small amount». The important thing, according to Hislop, is to remember that planting trees is good; but it isn’t the one and only solution to the climate emergency. «It is a way of helping with what should be our residual emissions; after we have done everything else that we can to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere»

Risks and best practice of Clyde Climate Forest 

There are also many risks within the development of a project with such ambitious targets. In order to plant all these trees «people have to step up and do it». Saying it is one thing, but then there is actual work to do. The other potentially problematic aspect is «putting the trees in the ground it’s just the start».

When working on a project like this, it is easy to «focus on the numbers of trees». A simplistic way of assessing the success of the project. A more sophisticated way is focusing «not on the planting but on the growing of the trees». Especially because «we won’t be locking up any carbon unless those trees grow»

To plant the right trees in the right places

The eighteen million trees will include both commercial and native species. Perhaps on a rough proportion of forty to sixty percent. Of course, however, tree species choice cannot be forced upon landowners; who will make decisions based on their objectives for tree planting. So, all in all, there are four main things to keep in mind throughout the years to come; marking the development of the project.

First, you have to  «retain political support», even after the hype created by Cop26. It is key that politicians stay committed. Secondly, «it can’t be business as usual». the project has all the urgency and the meaning it deserves. One must also «engage with people»; to help them understand the transformative potential of the project and involve them at all levels. Finally, the main focus must always remain «not on the planting but on the growing»; and remembering that those trees are much more than just «the eighteen million that make the headline»

Clyde Climate Forest 

The project was born out of the Green Network Blueprint; and is part of the Strategic Habitat Network, to learn more see our animation.

The writer does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article.

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check and buy on Prototipo Store
item collections in limited edition
crafted according to our editorial search

Hemp / made in Italy
Lampoon is working to restore
Hemp production in Italy
as hemp is the one and only
natural vegetal fiber sourceable in the country
for more info, please email us at [email protected]

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